I recently spoke with a 31-year-old woman whose company is being acquired, and this is introducing all sorts of complicated financial decisions and opportunities into her life. She reached out to me because someone posted a link to my business in her company’s women-only Slack channel (whoo! Marketing does work!).
Her one concern, it seems, in working with me is the idea of paying $150/mo. (Thankfully, the “I wear a fleece jacket and jeans to prospect meetings” didn’t phase her at all.) She was torn between this cost, which for her is not nothing, and the value of having a financial advisor guide her through all her financial decisions as they arise.
I mentioned this to my business coach, who then used a, um, “choice” word to describe the idea that $150 was too much to pay for ongoing financial guidance. She noted that women spend more than that on non-essentials every month. You look at anyone’s budget, and the “miscellaneous” category is usually well above this.
She has observed over her long career—spent helping women with money—that women don’t invest in themselves. And they suffer for it, financially, professionally, and personally.
I’m not here to be your pop psychologist. I am here, however, to talk about how to invest in yourself and why.
Invest in your health
Lately I’ve been reflecting on the fact that the challenges in my life (business, personal…unfortunately political) are not short-term challenges. And I realized that if I’m going to continue working for what I want, what I believe in, then I need to replenish myself every day.
For me, that means:
- a morning 30-minute yoga practice at home (shout out to Yoga With Adriene) and a weekly yoga class…during Business Hours (!!)
- Finding a chiropractor I like (I even had my sports chiropractor do a helpful Q&A for this blog)
- Getting at least 8 hours of sleep every night
- Home-cooked dinners
Now, I fall down on these resolutions on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. But they are the standard to which I try to return. (Anyone with a yoga or meditation practice knows this constant struggle to “return to the breath” or “return to the mantra.”) I feel a bit like Oprah; as I recall, during her talk-show heyday, she was always telling Super Women to take care of themselves instead of constantly depleting themselves on behalf of other people. Turns out, Oprah … not so dumb.
A mental health counselor who specializes in women in tech wrote a piece for my blog about self-care. Are you doing what she suggests?
How do you take care of your health?
Invest in your happiness
My husband is pretty great at finding ways to invest in his happiness. It is something I have difficulty with, and I think I’m fairly typical for a woman. I feel I should use any “spare” time I have on someone else’s behalf.
He’s an avid amateur photographer, regularly writes for his well respected photography blog, and regularly works on his photography projects… all while being a stay-at-home dad to our two kids. He’s quite willing to plop the kiddos in front of a screen in order to get some time for what makes him happy.
My goal is to be more like him (in this regard, at least. Ahem). His dedication to self keeps him from being the surly, emotionally depleted wreck that I too often am.
The book Happy Money (highly recommended!) explains five ways to use money to make ourselves happier:
- Buy Experiences
- Make It a Treat
- Buy Time
- Pay Now, Consume Later
- Invest in Others
So spend some money. Carve out some time. Do what makes you happy (or don’t do what makes you unhappy). It’s not an indulgence; it’s a necessity.
What makes you happy?
Invest in your relationships
This is something that my therapist is helping me learn. (Yep, in the modern age, having a therapist is damn near a status symbol.) If you are not intentional about each of your relationships, they’ll be neglected. Goodness in your relationships won’t just happen; you have to regularly work on it.
For me, this has looked like:
- Marriage counseling (I cannot recommend this too highly)
- Hiring a babysitter regularly so I can have 3 hours of uninterrupted conversation with my husband
- Taking every Thursday afternoon off to spend time with my elder daughter (younger daughter totally getting screwed at the moment)
- Not-frequent-enough get togethers with girlfriends for a hike or coffee
What relationships do you value? With your spouse? With your children? With your friends? With your parents? What are you doing to give regular attention to them?
Invest in your career
This is something I particularly hammer on with my clients: your financial future is not just a matter of prudent financial planning. It depends on your professional success, too.
Women in the tech industry are underrepresented in the higher-paying technical and leadership roles, in company ownership, and in founding. All this translates to less money for women. You don’t need tons of money to be happy. But you do need a sense of fairness. And if you are intentional about your finances, you can use “extra” money to accomplish things important to you.
Intentionally cultivate a network of people who might support and guide you at every juncture. This doesn’t mean you have to glad-hand strangers at an uncomfortable Networking Event (although if you are fine doing that, more power to you). You can thoughtfully pick out one person at a time you want to get to know better. In fact, this is part of the advice provided by a retained executive-search professional and witty master of the bon mot, Brent Hurtig, in my free guide about how to start a new job.
Spend money on developing career skills instead of saving for retirement. No, this isn’t permission to be frivolous with your money. If you make enough money to do both, then do it. But at age 25, 30, 35, or 40, spending $5000 on conferences, a degree, or classes should bring you far more money in salary over the course of your career than investing that money in your 401(k).
What skills to develop? Technical skills are certainly high up there. Whatever your job requires to do it well, get better at that. But then there are broader career skills, like public speaking, or negotiation, or leadership. Take classes; buy books; hire a coach. Seriously. This is not your momma’s employment landscape. (I mean, except for that pesky persistent pay gap…)
How do you invest in your career?
Invest in your finances
Step 1. Educate yourself. You need to do this regardless of whether you work with a financial professional.
On my FAQ, I list some of my favorite resources for regular folk about financial planning and investing:
- this short, free PDF
- I Will Teach You to Be Rich
- Personal Finance for Dummies
- How a Second Grader Beats Wall Street
- The Little Book of Common Sense Investing
Sign up for my newsletter so you stay up to date on my blog (particularly if you’re a woman in tech). Or check out my professional network’s consumer blog, where many different planners write about financial issues relevant to Gen X and Gen Y.
Step 2. Hire a planner, if you’re not able, willing, or interested in staying on top of financial issues that affect you. Maybe it’s a real cost to you. I get that. But this is very much a case of “you can’t afford not to.”
The earlier in your life, the earlier in your career, that you get your finances in hand, the longer you have to reap the benefits of it. Usually people first seek out a financial planner when they’re 55, wondering if they can retire. At that point, it’s a matter of “doing the best we can with what we have” and trying to undo mistakes.
You start getting control of your finances when you’re 25, 30, 35, 40? Then it’s all about avoiding mistakes and making the most of your opportunities. I love that about working with the early and mid-career set: there’s so much potential. It’s invigorating instead of worrying.
One of my favorite stories about this comes from a client of mine. She’s a 30-year-old, single woman in San Francisco, working for a private tech company, with not-crazy-complicated finances. Soon after we started working together, she attended a college reunion. Evidently two older female alumnae each told her, separately, that one of the best things she can do for herself is to have her own financial planner. These women had done so and happy they had.
Especially for women, this is both a protective act (far too many women cede responsibility for their finances to other people, and then are left in the lurch by a divorce, unscrupulous people, or other unfortunate events) and an empowering one: If you understand and control your finances, you will be better able and more confident in taking risks and pursuing your goals.
How are you strengthening your finances?
I started thinking about this blog post a couple months ago. In a Facebook forum, a group of smart, accomplished women had a lengthy discussion about their best investments in the past year, and what the “return on investment” was. We’re not talking stocks, bonds, or leveraged futures here. Women had spent money on meal-preparation services, maid service, more childcare, a personal trainer, a gym membership, a financial planner, a new mattress. The list went on. And no one regretted the expense. I got the sense the ROI was practically infinite.
Even if you’re still unconvinced that investing in yourself is worth the time and money, what can it cost to try it out for 6 months? A few hundred dollars? A small price to pay to find out if we can be happier, stronger versions of ourselves.
Question: What’s the best investment you made in the last year? You can leave a comment below.
Do you want a financial advisor who thinks a bit more holistically about your investments, and how your finances can bring you happiness? Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule a free 30-minute consultation.
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Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner and/or an accountant for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.